Afghanistan's Security Environment

GAO-10-178R: Published: Nov 5, 2009. Publicly Released: Nov 5, 2009.

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Charles M. Johnson, Jr
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In March 2009, out of concern that the overall security situation in Afghanistan had not improved after more than 7 years of U.S. and international efforts, the administration completed a 60-day strategic review of U.S. policy and the security environment in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Based on this review, and recognizing the vital U.S. interest in addressing security threats posed by extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the administration announced a strategic goal of disrupting, dismantling, and eventually defeating these extremists and eliminating their safe havens in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Subsequently, in August 2009, the United States issued an integrated civilian-military campaign plan for support to Afghanistan. The strategy and campaign plan call for, among other things, the execution of an integrated counterinsurgency mission and continued efforts to build the capacity of military and civilian elements of the Afghan government to lead counterinsurgency and counterterrorism efforts and provide internal security for the Afghan people. Accordingly, the focus for U.S. forces in Afghanistan will be to (1) secure Afghanistan from insurgent and terrorist threats and (2) rapidly train Afghanistan National Security Forces (ANSF) to lead military and law enforcement operations.

Afghanistan's security situation has deteriorated significantly since 2005, affecting all aspects of U.S. and allied reconstruction operations. As we reported in April 2009, the rise in enemy-initiated attacks on civilians and on U.S., Afghan, and coalition security forces has resulted from various factors, including a resurgence of the Taliban, the limited capabilities of Afghan security forces, a thriving illicit drug trade, and threats emanating from insurgent safe havens in Pakistan. Since 2005, attacks on civilians, as well as on Afghan and coalition forces, have increased every year. The most recent data available, as of August 2009, showed the highest rate of enemy-initiated attacks since Afghanistan's security situation began to deteriorate. Overall, nearly 13,000 attacks were recorded between January and August 2009--more than two and a half times the number experienced during the same period last year and more than five times the approximately 2,400 attacks reported in all of 2005. Violence has generally been concentrated in the eastern and southern regions of Afghanistan where U.S. forces operate, with insurgents making increasing use of improvised explosive devices, suicide attacks, and attacks targeting infrastructure and development projects. As figure 1 illustrates, the pattern of attacks is seasonal, generally peaking from June through September each year. Although never reaching the highest level of attacks in Iraq, the number of attacks in Afghanistan surpassed those in Iraq for the first time in July 2008 and has continued to exceed levels in Iraq in recent months. Developing a self-reliant Afghanistan is a key end-state goal articulated in the U.S. strategy for Afghanistan, which notes that achieving such an outcome will enable the United States to withdraw combat forces and make a sustained commitment to Afghan political and economic development. While U.S. and international development projects in Afghanistan have made some progress, the deterioration of security has impeded efforts to stabilize and rebuild the country. In particular, U.S. officials have cited poor security as having caused delays, disruptions, and even abandonment of certain reconstruction projects, while also hampering management and oversight of such efforts. For instance, the administration's Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan has identified the need for more security in order for civilian personnel and contractors to do their work in Afghanistan. Similarly, the commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and U.S. forces in Afghanistan testified in his June 2009 confirmation hearing that improving security was a prerequisite for the development of local governance and economic growth in Afghanistan. As of November 2009, there were reportedly about 67,000 U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan--an increase of more than 90 percent from the force level of 35,000 we previously reported as of February 2009. According to DOD, by the end of 2009 U.S. troop levels will rise further to about 68,000. Additionally, as of October 2009, there were reportedly about 36,000 non-U.S. military personnel in ISAF--an increase from the reported February 2009 force level of about 32,000. Furthermore, as of September 2009, DOD reported 95,000 Afghan National Army personnel assigned to the ANSF. According to DOD, the ANSF will reach its authorized end-strength of 230,000 army and police personnel by October 2010.

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